Removal of Roma child conformed to definition of 'ethnic profiling', report finds

Wednesday 02 July 2014 11.04
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Emily Logan said there were very simple cultural sensitivities that were missed in the Roma cases
Emily Logan said there were very simple cultural sensitivities that were missed in the Roma cases
Frances Fitzgerald apologised to the families on behalf of the State
Frances Fitzgerald apologised to the families on behalf of the State
A blonde, blue-eyed child who became known as 'Maria', was found in a Roma camp in Greece
A blonde, blue-eyed child who became known as 'Maria', was found in a Roma camp in Greece

A report into the removal of two Roma children from their families has found that in the case of a two-year-old boy the actions of gardaí conformed to the definition of ethnic profiling.

It also found physical dissimilarities between parents and their children do not constitute a reasonable basis for suspecting that such children have been abducted.

In the second case it found that a seven-year-old girl changed her hair colour to prevent her being taken from her family again.

Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan's report was published today, about nine months after the children were removed from their families and within days returned.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald met briefly with both Roma families today and apologised to them on behalf of the State.

Ms Fitzgerald said the incidents happened out of a determination to help children but that the determination had got skewed.

The best of intentions played out in a distressing manner affecting two children and two families, as highlighted in the report, she said.

Minister Fitzgerald said for wider society, she believed the lesson of this disturbing episode is that stereotyping of any community, and the perpetuation of unfounded prejudicial myths about any sector of society, must be tackled.

In the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny also apologised and said the State was amenable to accepting the report of the Ombudsman for Children.

A solicitor representing one of the Roma families said they are relieved that their position and their care for their daughter has now been vindicated by today's report.

However, solicitor Waheeh Mudah added: "In this case it is without doubt that racial profiling played a role and this is something that is an alarming feature in our society today."

Acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan also apologised and said that in order to protect children decisions often have to be made quickly in stressful situations.

Mistakes were made but the commissioner said the report found the gardaí involved believed they were acting in the best interests of the children.

She said sometimes officers making decisions in unusual, pressurised situations would make different ones when all information was available.

Commissioner O'Sullivan also said that discrimination will not be tolerated in the gardaí and that training was under way to help the force reach out to minority communities.

Report recommends support services

The report found that An Garda Síochána failed to critically evaluate the information provided in relation to the cases.

It said the Government must develop support and advocacy services to mediate between members of the Roma community and State agencies.

In relation to the first child, a two-year-old boy in Athlone, the Ombudsman found the readiness to believe the child may have been abducted exceeded the evidence available to the gardaí.

The report said this was tied inextricably to the fact that the child's family is Roma.

It said the child's ethnicity was so influential in determining the decision to remove him from the care of his parents that the actions of the gardaí conformed to the definition of ethnic profiling.

Members of the gardaí involved in the case believed they were acting in his best interests, it added.

In the case of the seven-year-old girl in Tallaght, the inquiry found the actions was driven by inaccurate information from a hospital; the past experience of gardaí in which children were removed from the jurisdiction; and a readiness to believe that the child may have been abducted because she was a blonde, blue-eyed child living with a Roma family.

The report found the actions by the gardaí were not the result of consciously held prejudicial beliefs regarding the Roma community.

It also noted that the member of the gardaí who dealt with the case is significantly experienced in child protection.

Ms Logan said there were some very simple cultural sensitivities that were missed in the Roma cases.

She said it is critical for those working in public bodies that provide services to be trained and educated in this area.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, she said that as a society there is a lot to do in terms of educating ourselves about the people who are living in Ireland.

The emergency policing power in child protection should be retained, she said, but added that gardaí should have clearer guidance and protocols about how to apply it.

Ms Logan said these were the key lessons to be learned from these cases.

She also said there is a need to look at the integration between agencies.

The Children's Ombudsman said there are some very simple information and formal mechanisms in Ireland for reporting.

She said a public health nurse is formally notified within 36 hours of any child being born in Ireland, so there was plenty of information about these children in these cases. Had the gardaí waited for this information it would have been very helpful, she said.

Ms Logan said it is vitally important that the gardaí have access to good information.

Last October, a blonde-haired and blue-eyed child, who became known as 'Maria', was found in a Roma camp in Greece.

An international search for her parents got under way; her mother was found in Bulgaria and the Roma couple had claimed Maria had been given to them in an illegal adoption.

It was against this background of international publicity that gardaí removed the two children from their Roma families, sparking headlines around the world.